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Poland - SOCIETY

Poland - The Society


In the years following World War II, Poland, like other East European countries, underwent a rapid, planned transition from a predominantly agrarian to a predominantly industrial society. When the country came under communist control in 1945, Polish society also was subjected to a set of rigid ideological tenets. Communist dogma failed to change the intellectual or spiritual outlook of most Poles, however, because traditional institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church and the family remained strong support structures for alternative viewpoints. On the other hand, the institutions created by the communist regimes fundamentally influenced the day-to-day functions of Polish society. This influence was especially pervasive in areas such as health and education, where state programs made services accessible to more of the population, albeit in a homogenized and regimented form.

Among the permanent results of communist ideology was the disappearance of the landed aristocracy, which had played an especially large role in governance and in preserving Polish culture and national consciousness, especially during the more than 100 years when Poland was partitioned. The disruption of traditional social hierarchies and barriers also brought substantially more upward mobility as the urban population came into direct contact with the peasants. Within a decade of the communist takeover, however, the initial benefits of this social engineering had faded, and in 1956 the first of several waves of unrest swept the country. Subsequent social and economic stagnation mobilized intellectuals and workers to stage increasingly widespread and effective protests. These protests eventually overthrew communism and ended its suppression of social diversity. Nevertheless, the forty-four-year postwar communist period left permanent marks on the Polish way of life even after the state control structures crumbled in 1989.

World War II resulted in a marked homogenization of the Polish population, which previously had been ethnically and religiously rather diverse. Massive relocations of ethnic populations resulting from boundary changes and the destruction of most of Poland's Jewish population in the Holocaust meant that a country previously two-thirds ethnically Polish and spiritually Roman Catholic entered the postwar era with a population over 90 percent Catholic and over 98 percent ethnically Polish.

Demographically, Poland in 1992 was a young country, more than 64 percent of whose population was under forty years of age. The country also had one of Europe's highest birth rates. By 1980 nearly half of employed Poles belonged to a socioeconomic group different from that of their parents, showing the mobility of the younger generations across traditional class lines. By 1980 less than one-quarter of working Poles remained in agriculture, and about two-thirds were either manual or white-collar workers in urban areas. About one-third of the postwar intelligentsia came from worker families, while about one-quarter came from peasant families. These numbers represented a drastic change from the predominance of the aristocracy in the intelligentsia before World War II.

Both by cultural tradition and by recent social policy, Poles were relatively well educated. The 1990 literacy rate was 98 percent. At that time, more than 17 percent of Poles had postsecondary education, and 4 percent had achieved advanced college degrees.

The end of communist rule in 1989 presented new challenges to Polish society and to government policy makers. The concept of universal, state-guaranteed protection from unemployment, sickness, and poverty was challenged as Poland turned toward privatization and opened its economy to market forces. Although society had retained a healthy skepticism about the benefits of total socialization, postcommunist governments could not devise replacement social programs fast enough to avoid bitter social dissatisfaction when the security of the old system disappeared.



Poland - Population


Between 1939 and 1949, the population of Poland underwent two major changes. The deaths, emigration, and geopolitical adjustments resulting from World War II reduced the 1939 population of about 35 million to about 24 million by 1946. Only in the 1970s did Poland again approach its prewar population level. In addition, the ethnic composition of the country was drastically homogenized by the mass annihilation of Polish Jews and the loss of much of the non-Polish Slavic population through the westward shift of the borders of the Ukrainian and Belorussian republics of the Soviet Union.


Beginning with the early postwar years, Polish has been the language of all but a very few citizens. Grouped with Czech and Slovak in the West Slavic subgroup of the Slavonic linguistic family, Polish uses a Latin alphabet because the Roman Catholic Church has been dominant in Poland since the tenth century. Documents written in Polish survive from the fourteenth century; however, the literary language largely developed during the sixteenth century in response to Western religious and humanistic ideas and the availability of printed materials. In the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment stimulated a second period of advances in the literary language. When the Polish state fell at the end of the eighteenth century, the language played an important role in maintaining the Polish national identity.

Although modern Polish was homogenized by widespread education, distribution of literature, and the flourishing of the mass media, several dialects originating in tribal settlement patterns survived this process in the late twentieth century. Among the most significant are Greater Polish and Lesser Polish (upon a combination of which the literary language was formed), Silesian, Mazovian, and Kashubian, which is sometimes classified as a separate language.

Population Growth and Structure

In the immediate postwar period, Poland's birth rate surged upward and many Poles were repatriated from military duty or imprisonment abroad. This population increase was tempered, however, by continued emigration of ethnic groups such as the Jews and non-Polish Slavs after the war ended. The annual growth rate peaked in 1953 at more than 1.9 percent; between 1955 and 1960, it averaged 1.7 percent before dropping to 0.9 percent in 1965. The growth rate then remained fairly steady through 1980. In the early 1980s, however, Poland's growth rate of 1.0 percent placed it behind only Albania, Ireland, and Iceland among European countries. The population increase in the early 1980s was attributed to childbearing by women born in the postwar upswing as well as to lower death rates.

Later in the 1980s, as many women passed their peak childbearing years, projected growth rates again dropped. From 1985 through 1991, the actual population increase was smaller every year. The actual increase in 1991 was 122,000. Nevertheless, in 1988 one in five persons added to the population of Europe outside the Soviet Union was a Pole. Experts forecast that in the year 2000 Poland would be contributing virtually all the natural growth in Europe's employed population. In 1990 the shape of Poland's population pyramid was expected to remain relatively constant; it was composed of a relatively small base of young people, with a wider component of citizens over age sixty and a bulge in the cohort born during the postwar upswing. In 1990 this group ranged in age from thirty-five to forty-four. At the end of 1991, the total population was estimated at 38.3 million; projected population in the year 2000 was 39.5 million.

In 1988 about 51 percent of Poland's population was female, a statistic reflecting the fact that average life expectancy was about nine years greater for women (66.5 years for men, 75.5 for women). The ratio of men to women was significantly higher (as much as five to two) in rural areas, from which many women migrated to escape poor conditions on private farms. Over a period of years, a lower rural birth rate led to a smaller agricultural work force. Already in 1981, only 55 percent of the rural population was of working age, compared with 63 percent of the urban population. (Working age was defined as eighteen to fiftynine for women, eighteen to sixty-four for men.) In 1991 some 29.4 percent of the overall population was below working age, and 13 percent was past working age. The former figure had fallen since the mid-1980s, while the latter rose in the same period. The 547,000 live births in Poland in 1991 equaled 14.3 births per 1,000 people. However, the 74 deaths versus 100 births recorded that year was a higher ratio than in any recent year. (In the early 1980s, the ratio was less than 50 to 100.)

In the late 1980s, emigration from Poland was stimulated mainly by poor economic conditions. The 1989 total of 26,000 émigrés dropped to 18,500 in 1990, but the slow progress of economic reform caused the rate to increase again in 1991. In this period, the group most likely to emigrate was healthy men between the ages of twenty-six and thirty who had completed high school or trade school. The majority in this group came from regions of high unemployment and had experience working abroad. In 1991 polls showed that as much as one-third of the Polish population viewed emigration as at least a theoretical option to improve their standard of living.

Population Density and Distribution

The most important change in postwar Poland's population distribution was the intense urbanization that took place during the first two decades of communist rule. The priorities of central economic planning undoubtedly hastened this movement, but experts hypothesize that it would have occurred after World War II in any case. In 1931 some 72.6 percent of the population was classified as rural, with nearly 60 percent relying directly on agriculture for their livelihood. By 1978 those figures had diminished to 42.5 and 22.5 percent, respectively. In the next ten years, the share of rural population dropped by only 3.7 percent, however, indicating that the proportions had stabilized.

In 1989 Poland had twenty-four cities with populations of at least 150,000 people. Major urban centers are distributed rather evenly through the country; the most concentrated urban region is the cluster of industrial settlements in Katowice District. In 1990 overall population density was 121 people per square kilometer, up from 115 per square kilometer in 1981. The most densely populated places are the cities of ód (over 3,000 people per square kilometer) and Warsaw (about 2,000 people per square kilometer). Urban areas, which contain over 60 percent of Poland's population, occupy about 6 percent of the country's total area. In 1990 average population density in rural areas was fifty-one people per square kilometer, a small increase over the 1950 figure of forty-seven people per square kilometer.

Updated population figures for Poland.




The dislocations during and after World War II changed Poland's class structure and ethnic composition. Important parts of the Polish middle class--which between the world wars had become the foundation of industrial and commercial activity--were annihilated or forced to emigrate, and those that survived the war lost their social status with the advent of state socialism. Nazi and Soviet occupation also decimated the intelligentsia that had supplied expertise to the legal, medical, and academic professions. Under the postwar communist regimes, leaders of the ruling Polish United Worker's Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza--PZPR) formed a new elite class by combining workers, peasants, and members of the intelligentsia in their ranks. Then in the late 1970s, the intelligentsia began to carry greater weight in the social structure by leading an intermittent, longterm protest movement. That movement culminated in the overthrow of the communist elite and reemergence of the dormant entrepreneurial segments of society.

Ethnic Groups

During most of its history, Poland was a multiethnic society that included substantial numbers of Belarusians (prior to 1992 known as Belorussians), Germans, Jews, and Ukrainians. This ethnic diversity was reduced sharply by World War II and the migrations that followed it. The Jewish population, which in the interwar period was over 10 percent of Poland's total and over 30 percent of Warsaw's, was reduced by about 3 million in the Holocaust. Postwar resettlement and adjustment of borders sent about 2 million Germans from Polish territory westward and awarded the Polish territory inhabited by 500,000 Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Lithuanians to the Soviet Union. These multiethnic émigrés were replaced by an estimated 3 million ethnic Poles repatriated from the Soviet Union and by thousands of others who returned from emigration or combat in the West. (Poland's communist governments, which consistently emphasized ethnic homogeneity, had not differentiated ethnic groups in official census statistics.) As a result of this process, in 1990 an estimated 98 percent of Poland's population was ethnically Polish.

<>Ukrainians and Belarusians
<>The Intelligentsia
<>The Working Classes
<>Social Relationships
<>The Role of Women


Poland - Jews


Although an estimated 200,000 Polish Jews survived the Holocaust, only about 10,000 remained in Poland in 1991, and that population was mostly elderly. As the postcommunist era began, relations with the now very small Jewish community retained an ambiguous but prominent place in the consciousness of Polish society. Beginning in the late 1970s, public interest in past Polish-Jewish relations increased significantly despite the dwindling of the Jewish population. Social observers attributed this partly to nostalgia for prewar times, when the Jews had made a dynamic contribution to Poland's diverse urban cultural environment. Another source of renewed interest was a need to finally understand the long and tangled historical connection of the Poles and the Jews. That connection was formed most prominently by the Holocaust, which had wrought havoc upon both Poles and Jews, and by the role of antisemitic elements in Polish society before and after World War II. In the early 1990s, these issues still provoked deep emotional responses as well as intellectual contemplation.

When communist rule ended, the phenomenon of "antisemitism without Jews" came under renewed scrutiny. In the first national elections of postcommunist Poland, candidates frequently exchanged charges of antisemitism and, conversely, of undue Jewish influence in policy making. In 1991 Solidarity leader Lech Walesa apologized personally before the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, for antisemitic statements by some of his supporters during the presidential campaign. According to a 1992 survey, 40 percent of Poles estimated the current Jewish population in Poland at above 750,000 people; 16 percent believed the Jews were a threat to Poland's political development in the 1990s; and 26 percent said the Jews exerted too much influence in Polish society. On the other hand, 81 percent said that the memory of the Holocaust should be preserved indefinitely to prevent a recurrence. Extreme right-wing parties with antisemitic platforms gained no seats in the parliamentary elections of 1991.


Poland - Germans


The German population of Poland is centered in the southern industrial region of Silesia, but a small population remains in the northeastern region that had been East Prussia in the nineteenth century. As was the case with other ethnic minorities, only approximate estimates of numbers were available in 1991. Definition and quantification of the German population of Polish Silesia vary greatly according to the time and the source of statistics. The communist regimes of Poland counted only 2,500 Germans through 1989. In 1992 German minority organizations, whose activities increased markedly after 1990, claimed that over 300,000 Silesians, concentrated in Opole District, were ethnic Germans. The official Polish estimate at that time, however, was 100,000 ethnic Germans.

The constant shifting of Silesia between Polish and German control during several centuries created a unique ethnic amalgam and regional self-consciousness. Whatever the original ethnic composition of the region, the Silesians themselves developed a separate culture that borrowed liberally from both Polish and German. The predominant spoken language is a heavily Germanized dialect of Polish.

Although the Silesians retained close traditional ties with their locality and their own group, in the early 1990s they could not ignore the difference between their standard of living and that of nearby Germany. Many non-German Silesians very likely declared themselves ethnic Germans to receive preferential treatment from the German government; this practice played a major role in the diversity of minority population estimates.

Some Silesians were bitter over the resettlement policy of the postwar communist governments and other forms of anti-German discrimination. Immediately following the end of Polish communist rule, a well-organized German faction in Silesia demanded that dual citizenship and other privileges be guaranteed the German minority in Poland by the forthcoming Polish-German friendship treaty. In this demand they were joined by German citizens who had been expelled from the German territory awarded Poland after World War II. Ratification of the Polish-German treaty of friendship and cooperation in 1991 blunted the impact of radicals, however, and promoted pragmatic local cooperation rather than confrontation between Poles and Germans in Silesia.

Postcommunist Polish governments established no firm criteria for proving German nationality; in most cases, oral declarations were accepted as sufficient proof. Beginning in 1989, the Social Cultural Association began propagating German culture in Silesia. By 1992 the group had initiated German instruction in 260 schools, stocked libraries with German materials, and arranged technical instruction in Germany for Silesian health and education workers. The special ties with Germany make Opole one of the most prosperous regions in Poland; the Silesian Germans provide important resources to the local economy, and the lifestyle of many Silesian communities resembles that of Germany more than that of Poland. Although many non-German Silesians feared that the spread of German economic and cultural influences would erase the unique ethnic qualities of their region and the idea of German dominance retained some negative historical associations, in the early 1990s postcommunist aspirations for the prosperity promised by German connections remained an important factor in public opinion on the German ethnic issue.

A smaller concentration of Germans became active and visible for the first time in 1990 in Olsztyn District in northeastern Poland, although the resettlement of the 1950s and ongoing emigration had reduced the German population there substantially between 1956 and 1980. In 1992 estimates of the group's size ranged from 5,000 to 12,000. Beginning in 1990, several German cultural associations appeared in the region with the aims of preventing discrimination and preserving German culture. Association members received transportation to and employment opportunities in Germany, and the German government contributed money to support association activities in the early 1990s.


Poland - Ukrainians and Belarusians


Before World War II, the Ukrainian population, concentrated in the far southeast along the Carpathian Mountains, constituted 13.8 percent of interwar Poland's total, making the Ukrainians by far the largest ethnic minority. Postwar border changes and resettlement removed most of that ethnic group, whose persistent demands for autonomy in the 1930s had become a serious worry for the postwar communist government. In 1947 most remaining Ukrainians were resettled from their traditional centers in Rzeszów and Lublin districts in southeastern Poland to northern territory gained from Germany in the peace settlement. State propaganda designed to further isolate the Ukrainians reminded Poles of wartime atrocities committed by Ukrainians. In 1991 some 130,000 Ukrainians remained in the resettlement regions, while the rest of the Ukrainian population was widely dispersed and assimilated.

Beginning in 1989, Ukrainians in Poland sought redress for the abuses they had endured under communist regimes. The Union of Ukrainians in Poland demanded that the postcommunist government condemn the postwar deportation policy and compensate Ukrainians and their churches for state confiscation of property in the resettlement period. In 1992 all such claims awaited approval by parliament. Property claims by the Greek Catholic Church aroused controversy for two reasons. First, the Polish Catholic Church had occupied many former Greek Catholic churches and refused to return or share them. Second, conflicting claims between Greek Catholic Ukrainians and the Ukrainians of the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church threatened the minority with a major rift along religious lines.

In 1992 estimates of the Ukrainian population in Poland ranged from 200,000 to 700,000. Of that number, roughly one-third belonged to the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church, a branch of the Greek Orthodox Church. The remainder belonged to the Greek Catholic Church, which recognizes the authority of the Vatican. Orthodox Ukrainians are especially visible in Poland because they compose nearly the entire population of the Polish Orthodox Church. Because of the importance of religion in Polish society, the relations of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland with the two major minority religions influence the status of Ukrainian communities in areas other than religion. In the communist era, the government attempted to minimize the danger of Ukrainian nationalism by shifting its support as the two Ukrainian churches sought recognition. The Ukrainian Social and Cultural Society, founded in 1956, published a weekly newspaper in Ukrainian and supported several schools in Warsaw, with the purpose of preventing the assimilation of Ukrainians into Polish society.

The size of the Belarusian population also was disputed in the early 1990s. In 1991 the official figure was 250,000, but minority spokesmen claimed as many as 500,000 people. Although concentrated in a smaller area (nearly all live in the Bialystok District adjoining the Belarusian border), the Belarusianminority has been less assertive of its national identity than have been the Ukrainians. Bialystok is one of Poland's least prosperous and most sparsely populated regions. Mainly composed of peasants, the minority includes few educated citizens, and the group has received little support from Belarus itself. Therefore, low national self-awareness has led to easy assimilation into Polish society. The Belarusian Social and Cultural Society, founded in 1956 as the minority's official mouthpiece in Poland, remained under the control of former communists in 1991 because of Belarusian distrust of Solidarity's ties with the Polish Catholic Church. Since 1989, however, some new ethnic organizations have appeared. A weekly newspaper is published in Belarusian, and a few new student, political, and social organizations have brought a modest revival of Belarusian ethnic community in the early postcommunist years.


Poland - Gypsies


The Gypsies (Rom, in the preferred vernacular term), a major sociopolitical issue in most other East European countries, are much less numerous and less controversial in Poland. Estimates of the Gypsy population in Poland range from 15,000 to 50,000. Czechoslovakia's Gypsy population, by contrast, numbered 500,000 in the 1980s, when Poland became a transit point on the illegal migration route from Romania to Germany. Emigration of Polish Gypsies to Germany in the late 1980s reduced Poland's Gypsy population by as much as 75 percent. Nevertheless, negative stereotypes remain strong in Polish society, and acts of violence and discrimination against this most visible minority are common in Poland. In 1991 a mob destroyed a wealthy Gypsy neighborhood in central Poland. The Polish governments has adopted no comprehensive policy on Gypsies byt instead had treated violent acts against them as isolated incidents.


Poland - The Intelligentsia


The Polish intelligentsia played a unique and vital role in several phases of Polish history. During the partition period of the nineteenth century, the intelligentsia was the chief repository ofnational consciousness. Containing the last vestiges of the landed gentry that had led the country during its heyday as an independent commonwealth, the intelligentsia was the chief means by which new and progressive ideas entered the fabric of partitioned Poland's society. As such, the class became the chief repository of a romanticized, idealistic concept of Polish nationhood. Well into the twentieth century, the roughly 50 percent of the intelligentsia that had roots in the landowning class maintained the aristocratic values of their ancestors. Although those values conferred a distinctly higher social status on the intelligentsia in everyday life, they also included the cultural heritage that all Poles recognized.

In the first part of the twentieth century, the intelligentsia was diversified and enriched as more middle- and lower-class Poles attained education and upward mobility. At this point, the intelligentsia divided philosophically into conservative idealizes of the past (whose landholdings gave them a vested interest in maintaining the status quo) and liberal reformers advocating development of capitalism. In the interwar period, Poland's social structure was further complicated by the rise of a vigorous, practical upper middle class. After the war, however, socialism drastically reduced the influence of this entrepreneurial class.

Facing a severe shortage of educated citizens, in 1945 the communists expanded opportunities for political loyalists to advance through education into the professions and the bureaucracy. Of the 300,000 college graduates produced by the education system between 1945 and 1962, over 50 percent were from worker or peasant families. The introduction of these groups sharply diversified the class basis of the postwar intelligentsia. In the late 1960s, however, the policy of preferential treatment in education ended. The percentage of working-class university admissions dropped to below 25 percent. Because the chief means of entry into the professional classes remained educational achievement, the drop in university admissions drastically slowed mobility from the working classes into the intelligentsia. In the postwar years, the intelligentsia diversified into several categories of employment: highly educated professionals, government and party officials, senior civil servants, writers and academics, and toplevel economic managers.

Especially in the 1970s, many members of the intelligentsia established careers in the ruling party or its bureaucracy, joining the cause of the socialist state with varying degrees of commitment. By 1987 all but one of the forty-nine provincial PZPR first secretaries had at least a bachelor's degree. The strong presence of the intelligentsia in the party influenced the policy of the ruling elite away from standard Soviet practice, flavoring it instead with pragmatic nationalism. Then, as that force exerted subtle influence within the establishment, other elements of the intelligentsia joined with worker and student groups to express open dissent from the system. They objected to the system as a whole and decried the increasingly stressful conditions it imposed on Polish society in the 1970s and 1980s. The most salient result of this class alliance was the Solidarity movement, nominally a workers' movement that achieved broad support in the intelligentsia and finally toppled the last communist regime.

In the 1980s, the activist elements of the intelligentsia resumed the traditional role as protectors of national ideals from outside political interference. In this role, the Polish intelligentsia retained and gradually spread the values it had inherited from its nineteenth-century predecessors: admiration for Western society, disdain for contact with and reliance on Russia and the Soviet Union, and reverence for the prepartition commonwealth of the nobility and the romantic patriotism of the partition era.

As it had after Poland regained its independence in 1918, however, the intelligentsia reverted to its naturally fragmented state once the common enemy fell. In the early 1990s, the official communist leadership elite had disappeared (although in reality that group continued to control powerful economic positions), and no comparably identifiable and organized group had taken its place. In this atmosphere, a wide variety of social and political agendas competed for attention in the government, reflecting the diverse ideas proposed by the intelligentsia, the source of most of Poland's reformist concepts in the early 1990s.


Poland - The Working Classes


In the years following World War II, the composition of the Polish working classes changed significantly. Agriculture, which underwent several major changes in government policy during this period, consistently lost stature as an occupation and as a lifestyle in competition with expanded urban industrial opportunities. The postwar rural exodus left an aging farm population, split apart the traditional multigenerational families upon which rural society had been based, and fragmented landholdings into inefficient plots. In the same period, the augmented Polish industrial work force struggled to achieve the social gains promised in Marxist-Leninist ideology. In the early days, the central planning system yielded impressive gains in the education level and living standards of many industrial workers. Later in the communist era, this group made less tangible gains in social status and began actively opposing the regressive government policies that prevented its further progress. In the early postcommunist era, industrial workers faced high unemployment as privatization and the drive for efficiency restructured their enterprises. By the early 1980s, the working population reached a stable proportion of 40 percent in industry, 30 percent in agriculture, and 30 percent in the service sector (which, like industry, had tripled in size in the postwar era).

Agricultural Workers

Although the communist leadership's economic agenda was the immediate cause of large-scale shifts from agriculture to industry, prewar conditions also contributed to this trend. Contrary to the nineteenth-century romanticization of the Polish peasant class as a homogeneous repository of national virtue, agricultural workers in the interwar period were stratified economically. A few peasants had large farms, many more farmed small plots, and fully 20 percent of peasants did not own the land they farmed. In 1921 only 43 percent of peasants owned their own house. The depression of the 1930s hit the peasants especially hard because much of their income depended on world commodity prices. By the late 1930s, Poland had several million superfluous agricultural workers, but industry had not developed sufficiently to offer alternative employment.

At the close of World War II, little had changed in the society of rural Poland. At that time, Poland's peasants made up 60 percent of the population. Although many villages were wrecked or diminished and 500,000 farms were destroyed, war dead included a much higher proportion of urban Poles. After the war, the large estates owned by former noblemen and rich peasants and worked by rural proletarians still dominated the rural social structures. The first step of the postwar communist regime was confiscation of the largest estates. Those lands were redistributed to private owners, although to avoid alienating the peasants, plots smaller than fifty hectares were allowed to remain with their original owners. At this point, rapidly expanding local industry began to offer peasants supplementary income, and industrial expansion in urban centers relieved prewar overpopulation and starvation in many rural areas. After the war, rural life increasingly was transformed by electrification, improved roads, and statesupplied equipment and materials. Nevertheless, on most Polish farms the fundamental relationship of the peasant to the land remained as it was before World War II.

Although Soviet-style collectivization remained a nominal state goal until 1956, early attempts caused precipitous declines in production and an estimated 1 million farmers to leave the land. As a result of the decollectivization program of the late 1950s, only 6 percent of farms remained collectivized. In the long term, the state's attempts at collectivization fostered a permanent resistance among peasants to direct state interference. In the next thirty years, the peasant family farm, whose value system made distribution of farm products to the rest of society clearly subordinate to immediate household needs, continued to be the dominant form of agricultural organization. Improved communications and agricultural education programs gradually broke the isolation of rural existence, however; as more contact with the outside world brought new values, it weakened the family cohesion and the inherited patterns of life that were the foundations of the purely domestic farm.

Immediately after the collectivization drive ended in 1956, mid-sized farms (those between five and fifteen hectares) predominated in the private sector, but in the next decades farms of that size were split repeatedly. By 1986 nearly 60 percent of private farms were smaller than five hectares. Furthermore, the holdings of individual farmers often were scattered across considerable distances. In the late 1980s, state efforts to stimulate reconcentration were stalled by peasant suspicion and by ideological disagreements among communist policy makers over the solution to agricultural problems. Prevented by government inertia and distribution policies from obtaining tractors and other equipment, many small landowners used horses for cultivation or simply ignored portions of their land. Frequent reliance on nonagricultural employment for a livelihood further reduced peasants' concentration on improving the use of their rural plots.

In the mid-1980s, only 50 percent of Poland's rural population was involved in agriculture. The other 50 percent commuted to jobs in towns. Of the private farmers in the first group, 33 percent were full-time farmers, 34 percent earned most of their income from agricultural employment, and more than 21 percent earned most of their income from nonagricultural sources. The remaining 11 percent worked for institutions with land allotments smaller than 0.5 hectare. The large group of landless rural laborers of the interwar years had virtually disappeared by 1980.

In the postcommunist era, experts projected large numbers of peasants would continue their split lifestyles unless major investments were made to upgrade Poland's rural infrastructure. In the late 1980s, new housing units and water mains were still extremely rare and sewage lines virtually nonexistent in rural areas. Only half of Polish villages were accessible by paved roads, and many poorer villages lacked a retail store of any type. An important failure of the collectivization effort had been the exclusion of peasants from the broad social welfare benefits instituted by the socialist state for urban workers. Although the peasantry received nominal coverage under the state medical system beginning in 1972, rural education and health services remained far behind those in the cities for the next twenty years.

The lack of rural amenities caused the most promising young Poles from rural families to move to the cities. As the traditional rural extended family began to collapse, the aging population that remained behind further strained the inadequate rural social services. The communist state modified its pension and inheritance policies in the 1970s to encourage older peasants to pass their rural plots to the next generation, but the overall disparity in allocation of benefits continued through the 1980s. In the early postcommunist era, however, urban unemployment and housing shortages began to drive workers back to rural areas. Experts predicted that as many as 1 million people might return to rural areas if urban employment continued to fall.

Industrial Workers

Between 1947 and 1958, the number of agricultural workers moving to industrial jobs increased by 10 percent each year. In those years, most industrial jobs did not require even basic education. Therefore, over 40 percent of recruits from agriculture were basically illiterate in 1958. From that time, however, the level of education among Polish industrial workers rose steadily. By 1978 only 5 percent of workers lacked a complete elementary education. A fundamental change in the social status of workers was heralded by the first workers' councils, founded in the late 1950s to voice opinions on industrial policy. Those increasingly articulate leadership groups, dominated by the 5 percent of the work force that had a secondary education at that time, led to the formidable labor organizations that shook Poland's political structure in the 1980s.

In the 1980s, workers age thirty-five and younger were better educated and more likely to come from urban families than their elders. Also, unlike their elders, the young workers had been raised under a communist regime and were accustomed to the social status conferred by membership in workers' organizations. Many saw their laborer status as an intermediate social step between their agricultural past and anticipated advancement to whitecollar employment. Conversely, association with the working class was an important qualification for advancement into social leadership positions both during and after the communist era. Labor's active role in the political and social life of the 1980s revived the self-esteem and prestige of workers. On the other hand, a 1985 study showed that 70 percent of workers did not wish their children to pursue a manual occupation.

In the late 1980s, some 45 percent of industrial workers had second jobs. Increasing numbers of moonlighting workers sharply stratified the working class, as workers without supplementary income were less able to maintain their living standard. Major inequities were inherent in the wage system as well. In 1986 the best-paid workers earned nearly five times the pay of the average Polish worker, while 33 percent of workers received less than 65 percent of the average wage. Postcommunist reforms brought new financial risk to industrial workers by lowering the upper end of the pay scale. That change, combined with the scarcity of supplementary jobs, pulled a significant new section of Polish workers below the official poverty line in the early 1990s.

In 1992 workers in many industries, including coal and copper mining, aviation, and automobiles, organized strikes to protest lower wages and the displacement caused by economic reform. Outside the jurisdiction of Solidarity, which advocated negotiation with the government, the strikes escalated under the leadership of radical labor leaders. Coal miners, who had enjoyed the highest pay and the best perquisites throughout the communist era because of coal's importance as a hard-currency export, played a central role in the strikes as they sought to protect their privileges.


Poland - Social Relationships


In the forty-five years of their rule, the communists built a monocentric society whose social and political fabric was dominated by a new elite of loyal government functionaries. In the 1950s, social institutions such as political groups, voluntary organizations, youth and professional organizations, and community associations lost their autonomy and were forced into a hierarchical state-controlled network. Only the Polish Catholic Church retained some degree of independence during this period. At the same time, however, smaller groups, initially isolated and fragmented, developed informal, pragmatic networks for economic supply, mediation of interests, and expression of antiestablishment views. Such groups functioned both within state-sanctioned institutions and among families, groups of friends, and small communities. In this context, dojscie (informal access to useful connections) was the means by which ordinary citizens remained above subsistence level.

The family, the traditional center of Polish social life, assumed a vital role in this informal system. In this respect, everyday urban life assumed some characteristics of traditional rural life. For both professional and working classes, extended families and circles of friends helped when a family or individual was not self-sufficient. Private exchange arrangements eased the chronic scarcities of the official supply system. Especially important within the family structure were parental support of grown children until they became self-sufficient and care by the children for their aging parents and grandparents. In the economic slump of the 1980s, urban food shortages often were alleviated by exchanges with rural relatives.

The inventive and independent networking process formed a distinct tier within Polish society. Seen by its participants as the repository of Polish nationhood and tradition, the world of dojscie increasingly contrasted with the inefficient, rigid, invasive, and corrupt state system. The emergence of Solidarity was a first step toward restoring the variety of social structures and independent cultural activities present in interwar Poland. In 1980 the phenomenon of public figures rising to tell the truth about Poland's problems began to break the wall between private and public morality, although the subsequent declaration of martial law temporarily dampened its effect.

The second tier involved illegal and quasi-legal actions as well as the pragmatic rearrangement of social relationships. Especially in the 1980s, the relationships between work performed and official wages and between job qualification and salary level (which for "ideological" reasons was higher for many classes of unskilled workers) were objects of general ridicule in Polish society. Under these circumstances, Poles increasingly saw the second tier, rather than the official economy, as the more rewarding investment of their initiative and responsibility. By the 1980s, this allocation of energy led some sociologists to argue that the second tier was necessary in order for communist societies such as Poland's to function.

The end of communism brought no rapid change in social attitudes. In the early postcommunist period, many Poles retained a deep-seated cynicism toward a state long perceived as an untrustworthy privileged elite. Direct and indirect stealing from such a state was at worst an amoral act that could never match the hypocrisy and corruption of high authorities who claimed to govern in the name of all the Polish people. But society's habit of separating "us" from "them" became a major obstacle to enlisting widespread public cooperation and sacrifice for largescale economic and political reform. Between October 1990 and January 1992, public confidence in the national government declined from 69 percent to 27 percent, according to a national poll.


Poland - The Role of Women


By the mid-1970s, nearly half the Polish work force was made up of women. On a purely statistical basis, Poland, like the rest of the Soviet alliance in Eastern Europe, offered women more opportunities for higher education and employment, than did most West European countries. Between 1975 and 1983, the total number of women with a higher education doubled, to 681,000 graduates. Many professions, such as architecture, engineering, and university teaching, employed a considerably higher percentage of women in Poland than in the West, and over 60 percent of medical students in 1980 were women. In many households in the 1980s, women earned more than their husbands. Yet the socialist system that yielded those statistics also uniformly excluded women from the highest positions of economic and political power. In the mid-1980s, only 15 percent of graduates in technical subjects were women, while more than 70 percent of jobs in health, social security, finance, education, and retail sales were filled by women. During the 1980s, very few women occupied top positions in the PZPR (whose 1986 membership was 27 percent women). Similar statistics reflected the power relationships in Solidarity, the diplomatic corps, and the government. By definition, women were excluded completely from the other great center of power, the Catholic Church. In mid1992 , Poland elected its first woman prime minister, Hanna Suchocka. Her coalition government included no other women. In 1992 the head of the National Bank of Poland, a very powerful position, was a woman, and Ewa Letowska, former commissioner of citizens' rights, was prominently mentioned as a presidential candidate.

Some experts asserted that the male power structure protected its dominance by limiting the opportunities for the advancement of Polish women to those that filled an existing need in the male-dominated society. Another factor in the role of women, however, was the high priority that Polish society continued to give to their role within the family and in raising children. In the 1980s, one in ten Polish mothers was single, and many single mothers had never been married. In 1991 over 6 percent of Polish families consisted of a single mother caring for one or more children. The extended family provided support for such unconventional arrangements. During the 1980s, both the state (by adjusting school schedules and providing nurseries and substantial paid maternity leave) and the church (by its influential emphasis on the sanctity of the family) successfully promoted the traditional role of women in raising the next generation. In the early 1980s, a very small women's liberation movement began at Warsaw University, but in the years following it failed to expand its membership significantly. In 1990 women in Warsaw set a precedent by demonstrating against church-inspired legislation making abortion illegal.

Even with the support of state institutions, however, during the communist era working women with families often had the equivalent of two full-time jobs because their husbands did not make major contributions to household work. According to one study, working women averaged 6.5 hours per day at their jobs and 4.3 hours per day on household duties. In the times of scarcity in the 1980s, standing in line to make purchases occupied a large part of the latter category. Women without jobs, by contrast, spent an average of 8.1 hours per day on household duties. The increased unemployment of the early 1990s generally affected more women than men. According to official figures, in 1992 forty women were jobless for every vacancy they were qualified to fill, while the ratio for men was fourteen to one. Women made up 52.4 percent of the total unemployed, a higher percentage than their overall share of the work force.

In 1992 women ran about 20 percent of Polish farms, a much higher percentage than in Western countries. In most cases, such arrangements reflected necessity rather than choice. Nearly 70 percent of these women were single, and over 40 percent were over age sixty. In most cases, grown children had left the farm for better opportunities and the husband had died or become incapacitated.

The end of communist government brought a new debate about women's role in Polish society. After 1989 many Poles began to associate women's rights with the enforced equality of the discredited communist past. A significant part of society saw the political transformation as an appropriate time for women to return full-time to the home after communism had forced them into the workplace and weakened the Polish family.

The rights of women were central to the controversy over state abortion law that escalated sharply in 1991 and 1992, although few women had policy-making roles and no major women's groups took advocacy positions. Some of the social policies of the postcommunist governments complicated the situation of working mothers. A 1992 national study revealed discrimination against women in hiring practices and payment of unemployment benefits, and no law prohibited such sex discrimination. Because childsupport payments were not indexed to the cost of living, the payments many women received became nearly worthless in periods of high inflation. In the communist system, daycare for the children of working mothers had been cheap and widely available, but by 1992 more than half the Polish daycare centers had closed. Striving to become self-supporting, the remaining centers raised their prices sharply in the reform period.


Poland - HOUSING


At the end of the communist era, housing was a major social problem. Although the postwar era saw steady growth in housing quality and quantity, that growth fell far short of demand in both geographic distribution and total availability. In 1990 the disparity between available dwellings and number of households requiring housing was estimated at between 1.6 million and 1.8 million units. The causes of this enduring shortage were complex. They included the failures of the communist centralized approach to housing policy before 1989 and the economic downturns that occurred in the 1980s and after the reform era began in 1990.

Communist Housing Policy

As in most other economic and social areas, postwar Polish housing policy followed the Soviet model. The principle behind that model was that housing should be public property and a direct tool of the state's social policy. Accordingly, the Soviet model eliminated private ownership or construction of multifamily residential buildings. Except for single-family units, the government had the legal power to take over private houses and land required for building. Private construction firms were turned into state enterprises that did contract building for central state organizations. State housing policy disregarded supply and demand in favor of administrative space allocation norms, standardized design and construction practices, and central rent control. Maintaining rents at a very low level was supposed to ensure that housing was available to even the poorest citizens. However, housing policy was subordinate to the requirements of central economic planning, so resources for housing construction were directed to industrial areas critical to fulfilling plans and advancing state policy. Materials distribution for housing also was subject to delays or disruption caused by the urgency of other types of construction projects. Although rural and small-town housing nominally escaped direct control, materials rationing and deliberate state hindrance of private construction limited the availability of new housing in such areas.

Polish Housing in Practice

In practice the housing policy of Polish communist regimes was more pragmatic than the Soviet model. In some regions, high housing demand inspired locally controlled cooperatives that pooled state and private resources. State housing construction actually was halted in the 1960s to create demand for cooperative housing, for which rents were much higher. Thereafter, however, the cooperatives gradually became centralized national monopolies, and construction in the 1970s was dominated again by large state enterprises. The monopoly status of the builders and the cooperatives insulated those groups from market competition and enabled them to pass along the costs of inefficient operations to the tenant or to the state.

Under these conditions, housing construction was extremely wasteful and inefficient. The economic crisis of 1980 combined with existing weaknesses in industrial policy to begin a housing shortage that lasted through most of the decade. Between 1978 and 1988, annual housing completions dropped by nearly 45 percent, and investment in housing dropped by nearly 20 percent. At the same time, the Polish birth rate added pressure to the housing situation. By the late 1980s, the average waiting time to buy a house was projected at between fifteen and twenty years if construction continued at the same rate. The housing shortage was a primary cause of social unrest; however, the structural flaws of Polish building continued unchanged. Construction remained of low quality, builders maintained the monopoly control granted by centralized planning, labor productivity dropped, and distribution and transport remained centralized and inefficient.

Housing also remained subordinate to industrial goals. In the 1980s, this meant that new workplaces were the center of housing construction activity, which produced dormitories for workers. By 1988 Poland ranked last in Europe in housing with only 284 dwellings per 1,000 persons; 30 percent of Polish families did not have their own housing accommodations; and the average number of persons per dwelling was 20 percent above the European average. In addition, the average usable area per dwelling in Poland was 10 to 15 percent below the average for other socialist countries and 30 percent below the average for Western Europe.

Private housing revived somewhat in the 1980s, although independent cooperatives still faced critical materials shortages in the construction stage. An easing of tax regulations and other economic changes raised the profitability of private property in that period. In 1988 the percentage of housing construction projects in which individuals invested had risen to nearly 34 percent from its 1978 level of 26 percent. Although state investment also rose slightly in that period, both increases were at the expense of cooperative investment, which dropped by 10 percent. Nevertheless, in towns privately owned properties remained insignificant until 1989, mainly because high inflation in the 1980s devalued the long-term, low-interest loans offered on state property. In 1989 the new government's anti-inflation measures realigned such loans with present currency values and raised interest rates, stimulating conversion of two-thirds of cooperative flats into private property by early 1990. At the same time, the monopolistic Central Cooperatives Association was split into numerous genuine cooperatives, the state housing administration was abolished, and new incentives were introduced to stimulate private building and rentals.

Housing after 1989

In 1990 Poland's traditionally low rents rose drastically when government subsidies of fuel, electricity, and housing maintenance ended. The long-term goal of housing reform was to let rents rise to market levels. A housing benefits program was to help the poorest groups in society, and new rules were put in place for financing housing purchases. In the transitional period that followed the end of communist government, however, the gap between demand and supply grew. Rising rental and purchase prices, the new obstacles created for housing construction firms by competitive conditions, and the economic downturn that began in 1990 also contributed to this gap. To function efficiently, the housing industry also required more substantial investment in modern technology, particularly in chronically wasteful areas such as cement production and building assembly.

In 1989 and 1991, new housing legislation concentrated on privatizing the ownership of housing units. Of the 2.7 million cooperative apartments in Poland, 57 percent were still tenantoccupied rather than owner-occupied in 1991. An additional 1.5 million apartments were owned by enterprises, which continued the uneconomical communist system of subsidizing as much as 80 percent of the property upkeep for their tenant workers. Beginning in 1989, private owners of multifamily houses could receive subsidies for maintenance, for which they had paid in full under the old system. The 1991 legislation set financial and legal conditions under which renters of cooperative-owned and enterprise-owned housing could assume ownership, creating individual property units from the larger units formerly administered by a central agency.




World War II essentially transformed Poland into a state dominated by a single religion. According to a 1991 government survey, Roman Catholicism was professed by 96 percent of the population. The practice of Judaism declined more dramatically than any other religion after the war, but the numbers of adherents of Greek Orthodox, Protestant, and other groups also fell significantly. Although the claim of religious affiliation signified different levels of participation for different segments of society (80.6 percent of professed Catholics described themselves as attending mass regularly), the history of Roman Catholicism in Poland formed a uniquely solid link between nationality and religious belief. As a result of that identity, Poland was the only country where the advent of communism had very little effect on the individual citizen's practice of organized religion. During the communist era, the Catholic Church enjoyed varying levels of autonomy, but the church remained the primary source of moral values, as well as an important political force. Of the 4 percent of Poles who were not Roman Catholic, half belonged to one of forty-two other denominations in 1991, and the rest professed no religion. The largest of the nonCatholic faiths was the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Although Poland returned to its tradition of religious tolerance after the communist era, jurisdictional issues complicated relations between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.

<>The Polish Catholic Church and the State
<>The Polish Catholic Church and the People
<>Other Churches


Poland - The Polish Catholic Church and the State


Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, the Catholic Church was not only a spiritual institution but also a social and political force. The dynamics of church-state relations in Poland after the communist era were shaped by the multifaceted identity the church had assumed during many decades when conventional social and political institutions were suppressed. That identity, called by one scholar a "civil religion," combined religious and political symbols in Poles' conception of their national history and destiny. Important aspects of this social and political role remained intact after 1989, fueling a controversial new drive for church activism.

Church and State Before 1945

The first impetus for an expanded church role was the social repression Poles experienced during the era of the third partition, from 1795 to 1918. In this period, the partitioning nations severely limited freedom of organization, education, and publication in Polish territory. With the exception of the post-1867 Austrianoccupied sector, public use of the Polish language was also forbidden. These restrictions left religious practice as the only means of national self-expression and the preservation of social bonds among lay Catholics. From that situation came a strong new sense of national consciousness that combined nineteenth-century literary, philosophical, and religious trends within the formal structure of the church. In 1925 the newly independent Polish state signed a concordat that prescribed separate roles for church and state and guaranteed the church free exercise of religious, moral, educational, and economic activities.

Although Poland enjoyed fourteen years of independence between the signing of the concordat and the Nazi invasion, the special role of the church continued and intensified when postwar communist rule again regimented other forms of self-expression. During the communist era, the church provided a necessary alternative to an unpopular state authority, even for the least religious Poles. Between 1945 and 1989, relations between the Polish Catholic Church and the communist regimes followed a regular pattern: when the state felt strong and self-sufficient, it imposed harsh restrictions on church activities; in times of political crisis, however, the state offered conciliatory measures to the church in order to gain popular support.

The Early Communist Decades

The Polish Catholic Church suffered enormous losses during the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II. Its leadership was scattered or exterminated, its schools were closed, and its property was destroyed. Ironically, in the war years this destruction fostered the church's conversion from an aloof hierarchy with feudal overtones to a flexible, socially active institution capable of dealing with the adversity of the postwar years. In the first two postwar years, the church enjoyed considerable autonomy. In 1947, however, consolidation of the East European nations under the hegemony of the Stalinist Soviet Union led to the closing of Polish seminaries and confiscation of church property in the name of the state. The state abolished the concordat and assumed legal supremacy over all religious organizations in 1948.

In the decades that followed, the church adapted to the new constraints, pragmatically reaching compromise agreements with the state and avoiding open confrontation over most issues. Between 1948 and 1981, the church was led by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, an expert on Catholic social doctrine whose commanding personality augmented the power of the church hierarchy as a direct conduit from the Vatican to the people of Poland. As a general policy in the early communist decades, Wyszynski avoided fruitless direct campaigning against communist oppression. Instead, he stressed the church's role as advocate of Christian morality. Nevertheless, the cardinal's criticism of PZPR party leader Boleslaw Bierut earned Wyszynski three years under house arrest (1953-56), as well as international stature as a spokesman against communism. During this period, a total of 1,000 priests and eight bishops were imprisoned, and convents were raided by the police in the communist drive to destroy completely the authority of the church in Polish society.

Wyszynski was released in 1956 as a result of severe social unrest that forced a change in party leadership. The release was followed by a church-state agreement significantly relaxing restrictions in such areas as religious teaching and jurisdiction over church property. This agreement marked a general softening of state religious policy at the end of the period of hard-line Stalinism. Ten years later, the church's lavish celebration of the millennium of Polish Christianity strengthened the identification of Polish national consciousness with the church and, in the process, the state's respect for the church as representative of national opinion.

Relations in the 1970s and 1980s

When the "reform" regime of Edward Gierek came to power in 1970, it took conciliatory measures to enlist church support. The 1970s were a time of bargaining and maneuvering between a state increasingly threatened by social unrest and a church that was increasingly sure of its leadership role but still intent on husbanding its political capital. Between 1971 and 1974, the church demanded the constitutional right to organize religious life and culture in Poland, using education institutions, religious groups, and the mass media. Major protest documents were issued in 1973 and 1976 against the weakening or withdrawal of state guarantees of such a right.

In 1976 church support for workers' food price riots began a new phase of political activism that would endure until the end of communist rule. In late 1977, a meeting of Gierek and Wyszynski, prompted by continuing social unrest, promised a new reconciliation, but the church continued its harsh criticism of state interference in religious affairs. In 1978 the selection of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Kraków as pope opened vital new lines of communication between Polish Catholics and the outside world and gave the Poles a symbol of hope in a period of economic and political decay. In 1979 the triumphal visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland boosted the Polish cultural self-image and turned international attention to Poland's political and spiritual struggles. The next year, the church lent vital moral support to the Solidarity labor movement while counseling restraint from violence and extreme positions. In 1981 the government requested that the church help it to establish a dialog with worker factions. Needing church approval to gain support among the people, the government revived the Joint Episcopal and Government Commission, through which the church gradually regained legal status in the early 1980s. In 1981 the Catholic University of Lublin reopened its Department of Social Sciences, and in 1983 clubs of the Catholic intelligentsia reopened in sixty cities. Twenty-three new church-oriented periodicals appeared in the 1980s, reaching a total printing of more than 1.2 million copies in 1989. Nevertheless, state censorship, paper rationing, and restriction of building permits provoked serious conflicts with the Polish government in the last decade of communist rule.

Wyszynski died in 1981. He was replaced as primate by the less dynamic Cardinal Józef Glemp, who attempted to continue the dual policy of conciliation and advancement of religious rights. By 1983 several activist bishops and priests had broken with an official church policy they saw as too conciliatory toward the regime. In a 1984 meeting with Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski, Glemp again attempted to obtain official recognition of the church's legal status as well as freedom for imprisoned dissidents. Later that year, the murder of dissident priest Jerzy Popieluszko by Polish security agents fueled a new confrontation between church and state. The Jaruzelski government, which had met with Glemp seeking the legitimacy that would come from renewed diplomatic relations with the Vatican, abandoned its conciliatory tone and returned to the pre-1970 demand that the church limit itself to purely spiritual matters and censure politically active priests. During 1985 and 1986, the church hierarchy replied with renewed demands for the release of political prisoners and for constitutional guarantees of free assembly. By the end of 1986, 500 political prisoners had received amnesty, and Pope John Paul II's second visit to Poland included a meeting with Jaruzelski--signals that relations were again improving.

The last two years of communist rule brought intensified bargaining as social unrest continued to weaken the government's position. The church demanded that the government open dialogs with opposition organizations, arguing that social and economic problems could not be solved without considering all views. When national strikes hit Poland in mid-1988, the church attempted to arbitrate between labor organizations and the government and to prevent labor from adopting radical positions. The Polish Episcopate, the administrative body of the Polish Catholic Church, took part in the talks that began in September 1988 between Solidarity representatives and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Those talks ultimately led to restoration of Solidarity's legal status. In early 1989, round table discussions between church and state representatives yielded a new law on church-state relations passed by the Sejm (the lower legislative house) in May 1989. The religious freedom guaranteed by that law allowed the church to resume officially its role as intermediary between the state and society. The law also set the stage for organized activity by the Catholic laity never permitted in the communist era. The Vatican resumed full diplomatic relations with the Polish government two months later.

Church and State after 1989

The approach of the Polish Catholic Church to the Polish state changed drastically after 1989. The church's influential role in promoting opposition views, its close relationship with Solidarity, and its mediation between factions in the tumultuous 1980s brought it enhanced political power in the postcommunist system. In 1989 virtually every significant public organization in Poland saw the church as a partner in its activities and decisions. One result of this identification was that when the Sejm began deliberations on a new constitution in 1990, the Episcopate requested that the document virtually abolish the separation of church and state. Such a change of constitutional philosophy would put the authority of the state behind such religious guarantees as the right to religious education and the right to life beginning at conception (hence a ban on abortion). Throughout the communist era, the separation of church and state had been the basis of the church's refusal to acknowledge the authority of atheistic political regimes over ecclesiastical activities. In justifying its new approach to the separation doctrine, the Episcopate explained that the communist regimes had discredited the doctrine as a constitutional foundation for postcommunist governance by using the separation of church and state to defend their totalitarian control of society against church interference.

As a political matter, however, the unleashing of stronger church influence in public life began to alienate parts of the population within two years of the passage of the bill that restored freedom of religion. Catholic intellectuals, who had shared opposition sympathies with the church in the communist era, also had opposed the autocratic rule of Cardinal Wyszynski. Many people feared that compromise between the church and the communist state might yield an alliance that in effect would establish an official state church. Once the common opponent, the communist system, disappeared in 1989, these fears revived and spread to other parts of Polish society.

In the period that followed, critical issues were the reintroduction of religious instruction in public schools--which happened nationwide at church insistence, without parliamentary discussion, in 1990--and legal prohibition of abortion. Almost immediately after the last communist regime fell, the church began to exert pressure for repeal of the liberal communist-era abortion law in effect since 1956. Between 1990 and 1992, church pressure brought three progressively tighter restrictions on birth control and abortion, although surveys showed that about 60 percent of Poles backed freedom of individual choice on that issue. By 1991, the proper boundary of church intervention in social policy making was a divisive social and political issue. At that point, only 58 percent of citizens polled rated the church the most-respected institution in Polish public life-- second behind the army. By contrast, one year before 90 percent of citizens polled had rated the church as most respected.

The church responded to the conditions of the reform era in other ways as well. It campaigned vigorously (but unsuccessfully) to prevent dissemination of pornographic materials, which became quite abundant in all East European nations after 1989 and were viewed as a moral threat. The church strongly defended aid for the poor, some aspects of which were suspended in the period of austerity that accompanied Poland's drive toward capitalism, although some policy makers saw welfare programs as remnants of the communist state. Following the issuance of a papal encyclical on the condition of the poor, Cardinal Glemp stressed the moral dangers of the free market.

After 1989 the church had to cut its highly professional publication operations drastically. In 1992 the church discussed improving access to the lay community, however, by publishing a mass-circulation newspaper and establishing a Catholic press agency. Glemp also considered decentralization of the church hierarchy and establishment of more dioceses to reach the faithful more directly.


Poland - The Polish Catholic Church and the People


Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, more than 90 percent of Polish children were baptized in the Catholic Church, showing that the younger generation shared loyalty to traditional religion. Surveys of young people in the 1980s showed an increase in professed religious belief over the decade, from 74 percent to 96 percent. Also, the number of men preparing for the priesthood rose from 6,285 to 8,835 between 1980 and 1986. The church's influence extended far beyond the limits of a traditional predominant religion, however. Especially in rural areas and among the less-educated urban population, religion permeated everyday life, and church attendance was higher in the communist era than it had been before World War II. As other forms of social affiliation were repressed or reorganized, churches continued as the de facto arbiters of a wide range of moral and ethical problems in their communities, a role they had assumed initially during the war. Although church affiliation was less prevalent among the educated elite, over 60 percent of that group (which included most of the nominally atheistic communist ruling class) professed belief in Catholicism in 1978.

Experts point to certain characteristics of Polish Catholicism to explain its unique resilience in a population bombarded for decades with state-sponsored atheistic propaganda. Polish Catholic religiosity focuses more strongly on the Virgin Mary and the saints than on the direct relationship of the individual to God or on abstract religious doctrine. The most important pilgrimage destination for Polish Roman Catholics is the image of the Virgin (called the Black Madonna) at Jasna Góra Monastery in Czestochowa. The image is believed to have rescued Poland miraculously from invasions by the Tatars and the Swedes, and some Solidarity leaders wore replicas of the icon.

Especially for less-educated Poles, Mary represents a tangible yet mystical connection with God much preferable to contemplation of abstract theological doctrine. During the communist era, this more immediate and anthropocentric religiosity seemed uniquely resistant to replacement by the intellectual doctrine of atheism. On the other hand, in the early 1990s, once the specter of state-sponsored atheism had disappeared, this immediacy promoted individual expression of beliefs in ways that questioned the church's authority over secular social ethics. Thus, the official church that had protected the spiritual interests of all Poles under communism risked separation from the everyday religious practice that retained great meaning for the average Polish Catholic.


Poland - Other Churches


A total of forty-two non-Catholic church groups existed in Poland in 1989, accounting for about 2 percent of the population. In the communist era, the legal status of these communities was severely restricted. In March 1988, the Polish Ecumenical Council, which represented the major non-Catholic groups, began participating in a commission with government representatives to restore unrestricted freedom of religion. The 1989 law on freedom of conscience and creed redefined the state's relationship to all religions, conferring equal status on the Roman Catholic and the minority churches.

The Greek Catholic Church

The Greek Catholic Church (also called the Uniate Church) was established in 1596 by the Union of Brest-Litovsk. That agreement brought several million Eastern Orthodox Belorussians and Ukrainians under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, although they preserved Orthodox religious rites. From the outset, many in the Orthodox Church strongly opposed Latinization and what they perceived as the compromise of tradition, and conflict between the Greek Catholic Church and both the Polish Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church flared periodically into the early 1990s. In Poland the tense relations between proponents of the Latin and the Greek Catholic rites had relaxed significantly in the 1980s, although serious issues remained unsolved. Among the foremost of those issues was Catholic occupation of Greek Catholic Church property confiscated by the state in the late 1940s.

In 1947 the resettlement of the Ukrainian population from southeastern Poland substantially reduced the practice of Greek Catholicism in Poland. In 1949 Pope Pius XII appointed Wyszynski as the papal delegate to the Greek Catholic congregations of Poland. In 1956 Wyszynski named sixteen Ukrainian priests as the clerical body of the Greek Catholic Church, and a vicar general was also named and installed in Przemysl. In 1981 Glemp named two vicars general for Warsaw and Legnica to improve the church's ministry to the dispersed Ukrainian Greek Catholic communities. Beginning at that time, church administration was divided into northern and southern districts. In 1989 the total membership of the Greek Catholic Church in Poland was estimated at 300,000, with eighty-five centers of worship and fifty-five priests. Twelve candidates were preparing for the Greek Catholic priesthood at the Catholic University of Lublin in 1989; five monasteries and three orders of nuns were active.

The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession

The largest Protestant church in Poland, the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, or Old Lutheran Church, had about 90,000 members in six dioceses in 1989, figures substantially reduced by postwar resettlement of the German minority that made up a large part of the church's membership. Services were conducted in Polish. The membership was concentrated in the Cieszyn Diocese, on the Czechoslovak border southwest of Kraków. Of the original twentysix parishes founded in German communities of Silesia and Pomerania, nineteen remained in 1985. Despite its name, the church was not a formal member of the Germany-based Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession.

The Old Catholic Churches

The Polish National Catholic Church, one of a number of socalled Old Catholic churches worldwide, had about 50,000 members in 1989, organized in dioceses centered in Katowice, Warsaw, Kraków, and Wroc aw. The church claims to retain all genuine Roman Catholic doctrine, while rejecting mainstream Roman Catholic tenets such as the infallibility of the pope and the immaculate conception and assumption of Mary. The thrust of the Polish National Catholic Church's beliefs is a return to "original" doctrine untainted by the addition of any new belief. The church belongs to the Union of Utrecht, which include Old Catholic churches from many countries and is overseen from the Netherlands by the archbishop of Utrecht.

The Mariavite Catholic Church of Poland is a schismatic Old Catholic group excluded from the Union of Utrecht because of unorthodox beliefs. In 1989 its membership in Poland was about 25,000, divided into three dioceses administered from Plock. About thirty priests were active in 1989.

The Polish Ecumenical Council

Founded in 1946 to promote interchurch cooperation, the Polish Ecumenical Council includes nearly all churches except the Polish Catholic Church. In 1989 member churches included the Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Reformed (Calvinist), Old Catholic, and Evangelical churches of Poland. Cooperation with the Polish Catholic Church began in 1974 when the council established a Combined Ecumenical Commission to deal with the analogous ecumenical commission of the Polish Catholic Bishops' Conference. In 1977 the council named a subcommittee for discussion of individual theological questions; by 1980 bilateral dialogs had begun among members sharing similar doctrine. Given Poland's history of religious tolerance, the restoration of religious freedom in 1989 was expected to expand the tentative ecumenical contacts achieved during the communist era.




Throughout the modern history of Poland, education has played a central role in Polish society. Together with the church, formal and informal education helped to preserve national identity and prepare society for future independence during the partition period. In the communist era, education was the chief mode of restructuring society and improving the social mobility of hitherto unprivileged workers. The postcommunist era brought an extensive debate over the goals of restructuring the system and the role of the church in secular education.

The Education Tradition

The education of Polish society was a goal of rulers as early as the twelfth century, when monks were brought from France and Silesia to teach agricultural methods to Polish peasants. Kraków University, founded in 1364 by Kazimierz the Great, became one of Europe's great early universities and a center of intellectual tolerance. Through the eighteenth century, Poland was a refuge for academic figures persecuted elsewhere in Europe for unorthodox ideas. The dissident schools founded by these refugees became centers of avant-garde thought, especially in the natural sciences. The Renaissance and Enlightenment periods in Western Europe brought advanced educational theories to Poland. In 1773 King Stanislaw August established his Commission on National Education, the world's first state ministry of education. This body set up a uniform national education system emphasizing mathematics, natural sciences, and language study. The commission also stressed standardizing elementary education, integrating trade and agricultural skills into the elementary school curriculum, and improving textbooks at all levels.

Eras of Repression

Partition challenged the work of the Commission on National Education because Germany, Austria, and Russia sought to destroy Polish national consciousness by Germanizing and Russifying the education system. During the 123-year partition, pockets of resistance continued teaching and publishing in Polish, and some innovations such as vocational training schools appeared. In general, the Austrian sector had the least developed education system, whereas the least disruption in educational progress occurred in the Prussian sector.

Between 1918 and 1939, the newly independent Poland faced the task of reconstructing a national education system from the three separate systems imposed during partition. Although national secondary education was established in the 1920s, the economic crisis of the 1930s drastically decreased school attendance. Among the educational accomplishments of the interwar period were establishment of state universities in Warsaw, Wilno (Vilnius), and Poznan (available only to the upper classes), numerous specialized secondary schools, and the Polish Academy of Learning.

Between 1939 and 1944, the Nazi occupation sought to annihilate the national Polish culture once again. All secondary and higher schools were closed to Poles, and elementary school curricula were stripped of all national content during this period. In response, an extensive underground teaching movement developed under the leadership of the Polish Teachers' Association and the Committee for Public Education. An estimated 100,000 secondary students attended classes in the underground system during the Nazi occupation.

Under communist regimes, the massive task of postwar education reconstruction emphasized opening institutions of secondary and higher education to the Polish masses and reducing illiteracy. The number of Poles unable to read and write had been estimated at 3 million in 1945. In harmony with the principles of Marxism-Leninism, wider availability of education would democratize the higher professional and technical positions previously dominated by the gentry-based intelligentsia and the wealthier bourgeoisie. Because sweeping industrialization goals also required additional workers with at least minimum skills, the vocational school system was substantially expanded. At least in the first postwar decade, most Poles welcomed the social mobility that these policies offered. On the other hand, Poles generally opposed Marxist revision of Polish history and the emphasis on Russian language and area studies to the detriment of things Polish--practices especially stringent in the first postwar decade, when Stalinist doctrine was transferred wholesale from the Soviet Union and dominated pedagogical practice. During this period, all levels of Polish education were plagued by shortages of buildings and teachers. Capital investment lagged far behind the grandiose goals of centralized planning.

Education reform was an important demand of widespread Polish demonstrations against Stalinism in 1956. Under the new PZPR first secretary, Wladyslaw Gomulka, government education policy rejected the dogmatic programs of Stalinism and in their place began the first period of (fragmentary) postwar education reform. Religious instruction was restored, at the option of parents; by 1957 over 95 percent of schools had resumed offering such instruction. In the vocational program, agricultural training schools were added, and technical courses were restructured to afford greater contact with actual industrial operations. By 1961, however, state doctrine followed the generally conservative turn of Polish politics by again describing the goal of education as preparing workers to build the socialist state.

The Law on the Development of Education Systems, passed in 1961, established four formal principles that reiterated the goals of the pre-1956 system and endured through the rest of the communist era. The education system was to prepare qualified employees for industry, to develop proper attitudes of citizenship in the Polish People's Republic, to propagate the values of the working classes everywhere, and to instill respect for work and national values. Education was specifically described as a function of the state, and schools were to be secular in nature. Religious institutions could sponsor schools under strict limitations, however, and the church was permitted to establish a network of separate religious education centers to compensate for this restriction. In 1968 the return of strict communist dogma to school curricula was an important stimulus for a national wave of student demonstrations. Although the Gierek regime sought broad education reform when it took power in 1970, the uneven progress of reform programs in the 1970s led to further unrest and diminished the role of education in state control of society.

In the communist era, two levels of education management existed. At the central level, the Ministry of National Education was the chief organ of state administration. That agency prescribed course content, textbooks, principles of school operation, standards for admissions and scholarship awards, examination procedures, and interschool relations throughout the country. At the local level, superintendents established personnel policy, hired and trained personnel, and oversaw other local institutions having educational functions. The daily functioning of each individual school was administered by a headmaster and a pedagogical council.

The Drive for Education Reform

In the Solidarity movement of 1980, student and teacher organizations demanded a complete restructuring of the centralized system and autonomy for local educational jurisdictions and institutions. In response, the Jaruzelski government issued sympathetic statements and appointed committees, but few meaningful changes ensued in the 1980s. Although an education crisis was recognized widely and experts advised that education could not be viewed in isolation from Poland's other social problems, the PZPR continued making cosmetic changes in the system until the party was voted out of office in 1989. The political events of that year were the catalyst for fundamental change in the Polish education system.

The round table discussions of early 1989 between the government and opposition leaders established a special commission on education questions, which was dominated by the Solidarity view that political dogma should be removed from education and the heavily bureaucratized state monopoly of education should end. That view also required autonomy for local school administrations and comprehensive upgrading of material support. Accordingly, the Office of Innovation and Independent Schools was established in 1990 to create the legislative basis for government support of private schools established by individuals and civic organizations. In a compromise with communists remaining in parliament, state subsidies were set at 50 percent of the state's per-student cost. The new private schools featured smaller classes of ten to fifteen students, higher teacher salaries, and complete freedom for educational innovation. Tuition was to be high, from 40,000 to 50,000 zloty per month, with scholarships available for poorer students with high grades. In the first eighteen months, about 250 new private schools appeared, 100 of which were affiliated with the Catholic Church. In 1990 the total enrollment of 15,000 reflected parental caution toward the new system, but the figure rose steadily in 1992. The Ministry of National Education viewed the alternative schools as a stimulus for reform of the public school system.

In 1990 Minister of National Education Henryk Samsonowicz established interim national minimum requirements while offering teachers maximum flexibility in choosing methodology. The drafts of new education laws to replace the 1961 law called for the "autonomy of schools as societies of students, teachers, and parents," with final responsibility for instructional content and methods. Controversy over the laws centered not on their emphasis on autonomy and democracy, but on the relative status of interest groups within the proposed system. Disagreements on such issues postponed the effective date of the new Polish education laws until September 1991.

The most controversial aspect of the new law was the status of religious education in public schools. A 1991 directive from the Ministry of National Education required that every student receive a grade in religion or ethics. For many Poles, this meant an invasion of the constitutional right to keep silent about religious convictions as well as recognition of a church education authority rivaling secular authority. Many other Poles, however, considered separation of the church from education to be a continuation of communist policies and a weakening of the national moral fabric.

Structure of the Education System

Poland's postcommunist education legislation left intact the public structures established by the 1961 education law. In that system, the first stage was kindergarten, attended by children between three and seven years of age. City kindergarten schools were open from seven to eleven hours per day and designed their programs to accommodate the schedules of working parents. Schools in rural areas were open from five to eight hours, depending on the season and on agricultural requirements. The level of education and auxiliary services was generally much lower in rural schools, and kindergarten attendance there was roughly half that in the cities. Some primary schools also had kindergarten sections, whose graduates continued to the next level in the same institution. The cost of kindergarten education was shared by the government and parents. Under the communist system, the cost of kindergarten education had been paid wholly by the parents. In 1992 the 23,900 kindergartens in operation included 11,000 separate kindergartens and 12,900 kindergarten sections.

Eight years of primary school were obligatory in both the communist and the postcommunist systems. Children entered this phase at age seven and remained until they completed the program or until they turned seventeen. Foreignlanguage instruction was widely available. Some special schools were available for students gifted in the arts or sports, and special courses were designed for physically or mentally handicapped students.

Poland's acute shortage of classroom space required double shifts and large classes (thirty to forty students) in most primary schools. Some schools provided after-school programs for students in grades one to three whose parents both worked; older students, however, were released at the end of the school day, regardless of their home situation. In 1992 some 5.3 million children were in primary school; new enrollments dropped 2.9 percent from the previous year.

In 1991 over 95 percent of primary-school graduates continued to some form of secondary education. Admission to the secondary level was by examination and overall primary-school records. In general, the students with the highest primary achievement went into a college preparatory track, those with the lowest into a trade-school track. Of pupils completing primary school in 1991, about 43 percent went to three-year trade schools (specializing in various trades, from hairdressing to agriculture), 25 percent to four-year vocational lycea and to technical schools, and 26 percent to college preparatory schools. The last category grew by 3.2 percent between 1990 and 1991, while the other two fell slightly. Of the three categories, only the first provides a trade immediately upon graduation. Students in the other two categories require further education at a university or at a twoyear postsecondary schools to prepare them for employment. Some college preparatory schools combine a variety of nontechnical subjects in their curricula; others specialize in humanities, mathematics and physical sciences, biology and chemistry, sports, or classical subjects. In 1987 these schools enrolled more than twice as many girls as boys; about 11 percent of secondary-school students received scholarships. Students passing final exams in the college preparatory program are permitted to take university entrance exams.

Most technical programs are five years in length. Such programs are offered in economics, art, music, theater production, and teacher training (a six-year track). Many students live at secondary technical schools because some districts have only one such school. The government and parents share board and room expenses; tuition is free. The Polish Catholic Church also operates fourteen high schools, whose curricula were state-mandated until 1989.

To enroll at the university level, students have to pass entrance exams. Institutions at this level include full universities (of which Poland had twelve in 1990), polytechnical schools, academies, and specialized colleges. In 1988 the largest of these were Warsaw University (23,300 students), Marie CurieSklodowska University in Lublin (12,900), Adam Mickewiecz University at Poznan (12,100), the Warsaw Technical School (12,000), and the Silesian University at Katowice (11,400).

The polytechnical schools offer theoretical and applied training in such fields as electronics, engineering, computer science, and construction. Academies specialize in medicine, fine arts, economics, agriculture, sports, or theology; thirty-four academies were in operation in 1990. In that year, twenty-nine specialized colleges were training students in pedagogy, oceanography, and art. College enrollment increased each year between 1989 and 1992. In 1992 some 430,000 persons attended college, 330,000 as full-time students; initial enrollment for the 1991-92 school year was 17.7 percent higher than for the previous year.

As a rule, students pursue postgraduate degrees as members of an academic team working under a single professor. Continued progress through the academic ranks depends on regular evaluation of scholarly activity and publications, and failure to meet requirements means removal from the program. Polish postgraduate studies programs, which culminate in doctoral degrees, suffer from lack of material support, low salaries, and low demand for individuals with advanced degrees in the job market. In the late 1980s, these factors made the dropout rate very high and forced cancellation of several programs. Between 1982 and 1992, Poland suffered a serious "brain drain" in higher education and the sciences as more than 15,000 scientists emigrated or changed their profession.




The fall of centralized state planning and the onset of massive economic and social reform put new strains on Poland's health and welfare systems, whose nominally full and equal coverage had been increasingly faulty in the 1980s. In the last decade of communist rule, national health care suffered from poor material support, inaccessible medical personnel and facilities, and poor organization. At the same time, critical national health indicators for the 1970s and 1980s showed many negative trends. Likewise, access to social services, nominally equal for all workers, was limited by the availability of welfare funds in individual enterprises during the communist era. Because no national standards existed, some enterprises offered their employees no social services at all, while others offered a wide range. By 1989 the material position of low-income families and pensioners was especially desperate. The economic "shock therapy" begun in 1990 by the Balcerowicz Plan further reduced the level of guaranteed health and welfare services, to which a large part of Polish society had become accustomed under communist regimes.

Health Conditions

In the two decades after World War II, the health of Poland's people improved overall, as antibiotics became available and the standard of living rose in most areas. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, alarming trends appeared in certain national health statistics. Between 1970 and 1986, the mortality rate rose from 8.1 to 10.1 persons per 1,000, and from 8.8 to 10.9 males per 1,000. The increase was sharpest among males between the ages of forty-five and fifty-four. For the same period, working days lost because of illness or accidents increased by 45 percent. Between 1988 and 1991, the incidence of newborns requiring intensive care rose from 2.9 to 4.5 percent. Experts listed the major contributing factors as high levels of air and water pollution, unsatisfactory working conditions, overcrowded housing, psychological depression because of deteriorating economic conditions, poorly balanced diets, alcoholism, and deterioration of health services, especially in prenatal and postnatal care.

<>The Health Care System
<>AIDS, Narcotics and Alcoholism
<>The Welfare System


Poland - The Health Care System


The constitution of 1952 guaranteed universal free health care. In the last two decades of the communist era, however, such care became progressively less dependable for those without informal support networks or enough money to buy health care outside the official system. As early as 1970, Polish governments recognized the need to reform the cumbersome, inefficient national health care system, but vested interests in the central planning system prevented meaningful change. From the beginning, administration of the system was inefficient. The structure of the medical profession did not supply enough general practitioners, and medical personnel such as dentists and nurses were in short supply. Treatment facilities were too few and crowded, preventive medicine received little attention, and the quality of care was generally much poorer in rural areas. As in other communist countries, the finest medical facilities were reserved for the party elite.

In the postcommunist reform period, constriction of the state budget and fragmentary privatization of medical practices made the availability of health care unpredictable for many Poles. After inheriting a deteriorating health care system, Polish policy makers placed their near-term hopes on reducing bureaucracy, encouraging self-government in the medical profession, shifting resources to more efficient departments, and streamlining admissions and diagnosis procedures.

In 1992 Poland had fifty-seven hospital beds per 10,000 citizens, about half the ratio of beds available in France and Germany. The ratio had been declining since the 1960s; in 1991 alone, however, over 2,500 beds and nearly 100 clinics and dispensaries were eliminated in the drive for consolidation and efficiency. Already in the mid-1980s, about 50 percent of the medicines officially available could not be obtained by the average Pole, and the average hospital had been in service sixtyfive years. Because the reform budgets of the early 1990s included gradual cuts in the funding of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, additional targeted cuts of 10 to 20 percent were expected in clinics and hospital beds by 1994. The long-term goal of Polish health policy was a complete conversion of state budget-supported socialized medicine to a privately administered health system supported by a universal obligatory health insurance fee. Under such a system, fees would be shared equally by workers and enterprises. Before introduction of that system, which was not expected until at least 1995, interim funding was to depend heavily on a patchwork of voluntary contributions and local and national health-care taxes. Even after 1995, however, planners projected that the state budget would continue contributing to the national health care fund until the insurance system became self-sufficient. The state would now contribute directly, however, bypassing the old health care bureaucracy.


Poland - AIDS, Narcotics and Alcoholism


In 1991 Poland's overall mortality rate increased to 10.6 deaths per 1,000 persons, from the 1990 figure of 10.2 per 1,000. In the same period, infant mortality remained constant at 15.9 per 1,000. About 50 percent of the 405,000 deaths in 1991 were attributed to circulatory diseases, and another 20 percent were caused by malignant tumors. Poland's communist regimes partially or completely ignored a number of major health problems, including acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), drug addiction, and alcoholism. Only with the open discussion that began in 1989 did the extent of these problems become clear. Solutions, on the other hand, were often blocked in the postcommunist years by popular distrust of state authority, controversy between church and state, and lack of resources.


AIDS emerged as an issue in Poland later than in the West-- partly because of communist suppression of statistics, partly because the epidemic apparently reached Poland later. In 1991 the government officially estimated that 2,000 Poles had been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), whereas an independent health expert put the figure at 100,000. This statistical discrepancy reflected Poland's late start in testing the groups at highest risk of infection. Narcotics addicts were endangered particularly because the drug in widest use in Poland was administered and distributed by syringe, one of the most potent means of HIV transmission. Early efforts to control the spread of HIV were hampered by public ignorance and superstition; in 1992 about 70 percent of Poles believed they could not be infected, while many believed that water and mosquitoes were carriers. The total lack of sex education programs in the schools (the Polish Catholic Church forced their removal after the communist era) and the disinclination of political and religious leaders to address the issue publicly further hindered prevention efforts.

Twice in 1991, World Health Organization (WHO) teams evaluated the Polish situation and proposed a program to combat the spread of AIDS. The teams advised that, to prevent the disease from spreading from high-risk groups to society at large, information on the epidemic be given maximum dissemination to certain less visible groups that were likely victims of the second phase of the disease. The most urgent target groups were the prostitute community--whose numbers in 1992 were estimated to be as high as 180,000--and their potential customers. At that point, however, a comprehensive information program was impossible because the country lacked trained workers and money for training programs. Other obstacles were lack of modern diagnostic technology and poor hygiene in public health facilities. In 1991 WHO allocated a small fund for a three-year education and prevention program in Poland.


As in the case of AIDS victims, communist regimes denied the existence of drug addicts. The first private drug treatment center opened in 1970, and in the 1970s health and legal professionals discussed the drug problem guardedly. Not until the 1980s were organizations founded to combat drug addiction, and they were harassed and limited by government agencies until 1989. In 1992 between 4,000 and 5,000 Poles dependent on narcotics were being treated at facilities of the national health service or social organizations. The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare estimated that 200,000 to 250,000 persons were taking drugs at that time, however. In 1991 some 190 deaths were attributed to drug overdoses. Addicts under treatment were predominantly from the working class and the intelligentsia, male, and younger than thirty years of age (nearly half were under twenty-four). The most commonly abused substance, kompot, was a powerful and physically devastating drug readily produced from the poppy plants grown widely in Poland. The drug was injected intravenously. Kompot moved through society via informal networks operating independently of the international drug market.

In the period from 1986 to 1992, drug abuse in Poland remained stable despite declining standards of living, rising unemployment, and a rising overall crime rate. As barriers to the West fell, however, amphetamine manufacture and trafficking introduced a new threat. By 1992, amphetamines from Poland were considered as serious a threat in Germany and Scandinavia as imported cocaine and heroine; at that time, an estimated 20 percent of amphetamines in Western Europe originated in Polish laboratories. The confiscation of 150 kilograms of cocaine in Poland in 1991 also indicated that domestic narcotics production was diversifying, and local authorities feared that Colombian drug cartels were investing in that activity. To counter criminal drug producers, who also were involved in other types of crime, Poland established a National Drug Bureau in 1991. Because kompot remained much cheaper and more accessible in the early 1990s, however, the Polish market for amphetamines remained very small. Meanwhile, a 1990 law made illegal the cultivation of poppies without a government permit, and a new, morphine-free poppy species was introduced in 1991 to enable farmers to continue poppy cultivation.

In 1992 nineteen of Poland's drug rehabilitation centers were operated by the Young People's Movement to Combat Drug Addiction (known by its Polish acronym, MONAR). Although hundreds of people were cured in such centers in the 1980s, the severe treatment methods of MONAR's two-year program caused controversy in the Polish health community. For that reason, in 1990 the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare began opening clinics that emphasized preparing individuals for life after treatment.


The older generations of Poles escaped narcotics addiction, but alcoholism is a problem in all generations. Alcohol consumption is an integral part of Polish social tradition, and nondrinkers are relatively rare. Per capita consumption increased significantly after World War II, however, and consumption remained above the European average throughout the communist period. Children often began drinking when still in primary school. Government programs nominally discouraged excessive drinking, but the importance of revenue from the Polish alcohol industry restricted their activity. Throughout the 1980s, the percentage of strong alcoholic beverages in overall consumption rose steadily, putting Poland near the top among nations in that statistic. In 1977 an estimated 4.3 million Poles consumed the equivalent of more than 48 liters of pure alcohol per person per year; of that number, about 1 million were believed to be clinically alcohol-dependent. In 1980 the average male Pole over sixteen years of age consumed the equivalent of 16.6 liters of pure alcohol per year.


Poland - The Welfare System


The communist central planning system made a wide variety of payments to subsidize citizens in certain categories and encourage or discourage the activities of citizens in other categories. By the mid-1980s, the planning labyrinth created by such payments was such a fiscal burden that severe cuts were made in some payments. Like the health system, Poland's welfare system underwent substantial decentralization and restructuring, and all parts of the system suffered from limited funding in the transition period that began in 1989. Although a higher percentage of the population needed welfare services because of high unemployment in that period, the need to reduce the government's budget deficit caused drastic cuts in many services. Eventual reversal of this trend depends upon the speed with which Poland's economy rebounds from its transition crisis and upon the efficiency of the new welfare bureaucracies.

Structural Change

Until 1989 social policy making was centralized in the Planning Commission of the Council of Ministers. The postcommunist reforms placed social policy responsibility in the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and the Ministry of Health and Welfare, with the aim of liberating social policy from its communist-era linkage with economic policy considerations. The social welfare policy of the postcommunist governments was planned in two phases. The first stage included short-term measures to offset the income losses of certain groups resulting from government antiinflation policy. These measures varied from the setting up of soup kitchens and partial payment of heating bills to reorganization of the social assistance system. The second, long-term policy aims at rebuilding the institutions of the system to conform with the future market economy envisioned by planners. Communal and regional agencies are to assume previously centralized functions, and authority is to be shared with private social agencies and charities.

Welfare Benefits

In the late 1980s, Poland spent about 22 percent of its gross national product (GNP) on social benefits in the form of monetary payments or services. At that time, over 5 million Poles received retirement or disability pensions, and about 100,000 were added yearly in the latter category. In the years of labor shortage, government incentives encouraged pensioners to continue to work past retirement age (sixty-five for men, sixty for women). In the early 1980s, the number of invalids receiving benefits increased from 2.5 million to 3.6 million, straining the welfare system. The communist system also paid benefits to single mothers with preschool children, sickness benefits for workers, income supplements and nonrepayable loans to the poor, and education grants to nearly 75 percent of students, in addition to providing nominally free health care, cultural and physical education facilities. By the mid-1980s, however, all the free, state-funded services were being considered for privatization, fees, or rationing.

In the first postcommunist years, social support programs for the unemployed underwent important changes. The initial postcommunist policy guaranteed unemployment benefits and retraining regardless of the reason for a person's unemployed status. Benefits were to be paid indefinitely and were based on previous pay or on the national minimum wage for those who had never worked. Benefits included old-age, disability, and survivors' pensions and compensation for work injuries, sickness, maternity, and family-related expenses. Although the system covered both industry and agriculture, enterprises in the industrial sector paid much higher surcharges (usually 45 percent of the worker's salary) to the benefit fund than did either the agriculture or housing sectors.

In 1991 and early 1992, a series of laws drastically reduced the coverage of the unemployment program. Under the modified policies, benefits no longer went to those who had never been employed; a twelve-month limit was placed on all payments; and benefit levels were lowered by pegging them to income the previous quarter rather than to the last salary received. This reform immediately disqualified 27 percent of previous beneficiaries, and that percentage was expected to rise in ensuing years.

In 1992 the Warsaw welfare office divided its benefit payments among 4,500 recipients of permanent benefits, 8,500 recipients of temporary benefits, and 25,500 recipients of housing assistance. The public assistance law entitled one person per family to permanent benefits at the official minimum subsistence level. Throughout Poland, the demand for welfare assistance grew steadily between 1990 and 1992, well beyond the financial and organizational capabilities of the state system. The shortage affected a wide range of social categories: the homeless and unemployed, AIDS victims, families of alcoholics, and the elderly. According to a 1991 study, 18 percent of Polish children lived in poverty. Thus, the postcommunist conversion of a state-sponsored and state-controlled economy reverberated strongly in the "social security" that communism had promised but very often failed to deliver in the 1980s.


Poland - The Economy


POLAND'S ECONOMIC GROWTH was favored by relatively rich natural resources for both agriculture and industry. Eastern Europe's largest producer of food, Poland based its sizeable and varied industrial sector on ample coal supplies that made it the world's fourth largest coal producer in the 1970s. The most productive industries, such as equipment manufacturing and food processing, were built on the country's coal and soil resources, respectively, and energy supply still depended almost entirely on coal in the early 1990s.

After World War II, Poland's new communist rulers reorganized the economy on the model of state socialism established by Joseph V. Stalin in the Soviet Union. The result was the predominance of heavy industry, large enterprises, a topheavy centralized bureaucracy controlling every aspect of production. Considerations such as consumer demand and worker job satisfaction, familiar in Western capitalist systems, were ignored. Isolated from the processes of the marketplace, pricing and production levels were set to advance the master plans of the ruling party. The socioeconomic disproportions that resulted from this isolation were a burdensome legacy to the reform governments in the early postcommunist era.

Poland's abundant agricultural resources remained largely in private hands during the communist period, but the state strongly influenced that sector through taxes, controls on materials, and limits on the size of private plots. Many small industries and crafts also remained outside direct state control.

The Polish economy also was isolated from the international economy by the postwar nationalization of foreign trade. Reforms in the 1970s and 1980s gradually gave individual enterprises more direct control over their foreign trade activities, bypassing much of the state planning machinery. But until 1990 Polish trade policy remained severely limited by its obligations to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), which was dominated by the Soviet Union. Although price supports helped Poland's balance of trade within the system, they also encouraged inefficient and low-quality production that discouraged trade with the rest of the world.

Failure of central state planning to yield economic growth inspired social unrest and official policy reform in the 1970s and the early 1980s, but no real change occurred until the installation of a noncommunist government in mid-1989. With massive public support, the first noncommunist government imposed a shocktherapy reform program in 1990. This program included privatization of all parts of the Polish economy and a rapid shift from the unrealistic state planning system to a Westernstyle market economy. The momentum of the early reform days flagged in the next two years, however. In 1992 signs of economic progress were very uneven. Consumer goods became much more available, but the continued existence of inefficient state enterprises lowered productivity significantly, unemployment rose, and inflation became a serious threat after initially being reduced to virtually zero.

In its efforts to westernize its economy after 1989, Poland relied heavily on expertise and financial support from international financial institutions. Although its substantial hard-currency debt was partially forgiven in 1991, the remains of the communist management system hindered efficient use of foreign capital and discouraged the foreign investment that Poland vigorously sought. Thus, by 1992 what was initially planned as a brief period of painful economic adjustment had become a much longer ordeal that had brought mixed results.



CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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